Lars von Trier wears his "Persona Non Grata" T-shirt at Nymphomaniac photo call in Berlin.
Sticking to his pledge not to do anymore press after the fallout from his headline grabbing diatribe in Cannes three years ago, Lars von Trier nevertheless managed a dramatic moment here in Berlin where his latest, Nymphomaniac Part I is premiering. The flamboyant Danish director sported a T-shirt that read: "Persona Non Grata Official Selection," which also not so subtly had the Cannes Palme d'Or logo across his chest.
The move by Cannes to declare him "Personal Non Grata" clearly still has resonance with the filmmaker. At the 2011 edition of the Festival, von Trier appeared to stumble over his words at a press conference for his film Melancholia and not so delicately joked he had an "understanding" of Hitler. He quickly tried to correct himself, but the damage was done. The press seized on the comment and his verbal stumble made headlines around the world. The festival then issued a declaration that von Trier was "Persona Non Grata" though that actually fell rather hollow. Von Trier wasn't "banned" from the festival other than had the film won the Palme d'Or that year, he wouldn't have been present to pick it up -- it didn't.
Nevertheless, the aftermath kept von Trier away from today's press conference, which instead features Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin and Shia LaBeouf.
Though von Trier remained backstage for the Nymphomaniac press conference, dramatics nevertheless flared, courtesy of Shia LaBeouf. A journalist from Colombia inquired about the film's plentiful depiction of sex (the film centers on a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who is not in Berlin). Actress Stacy Martin gave a straightforward answer, noting that the sex scenes were part of the film. "I knew that going in and I trusted Lars von Trier."
LaBeouf paused before moving the microphone closer to him, and then staged what appeared to be a pre-planned twist of dramatics/pseudo performance art, giving a metaphoric response and then standing up and walking out of the room.
"When the seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown out into the sea," he said, "Thank you very much."
LaBeouf lifted the quote from a French soccer player, playing off his recent plagiarism mini-controversy.
After his departure, the discussion continued sans spectacle. All the actors were effusively pro-von Trier, giving him kudos for his vision in making the film.
"You kind of want to do anything for him," said Christian Slater. "He's a generous and very real person. He has a very sensitive soul and for an actor that is a gift." Skarsgård, who plays a gentleman who rescues the adult Joe, recounting her story of nymphomania to him, while convalescing in bed, said that he and Charlotte Gainsbourg's character were two sides of von Trier's personality. "I was the nerd side of Lars," said Skarsgård, adding that Gainsbourg's "Joe" was the complex and "more interesting" side of von Trier.
Nymphomaniac runs the gamut emotionally, depicitng a playful, sometimes funny and often dark side of sexuality. Audiences may be polarized in their reactions, but it will likely spark ample discussion about sexuality and the depiction of sex on screen. "That's what Lars von Trier does, he creates a conversation and debate," said Martin, who plays the young "Joe" in Part I of the two part film. The first part will be out this spring in the U.S. "This is about our sexuality and you can't ignore it… I just jumped on the train, but the story itself didn't make me nervous."
Nymphomaniac producer Louise Vesth had what might have been the most pointed revelation of the conversation had LaBeouf kept his antics at bay. She said that von Trier has long "been able to do what he wants to do," though this movie proved more challenging than past productions.
"Sex is more difficult than violence," she said. "I don't know why, but it is. He's been able to do what he wants and hopefully that will continue."